My favorite sister came to visit in August. The impetus for her trip was the Tudor portrait exhibit at the Legion of Honor. She’d already seen it in NYC and Cleveland so she wanted to “collect the whole set” and see it in SF at its final location. Cacaopod and I called her a Tudor Deadhead — following the show across the country.
She took us to the exhibit — it’s not one of our passions, but if we’re gonna go, why not go with an expert? We got her personal tour with all the gossip and eccentricity of the Tudors — and then she circled through the exhibit another 3 or 4 times by herself with one final farewell tour where she said goodbye to her favorite portraits in the show.
Since we’ve been doing this blog now for 14 years(!) I’d be the last one to fault anyone for their passions (teasing is another thing entirely). Instead I set up a day of chocolate touring via public transit (another one of my passions) for her. I just miscalculated some of the logistics which resulted in us also walking over 6 miles in the day — hence her name for it: The Death March.
She insists she enjoyed it — mostly — and I loved it so I wanted to share the route for those who share my interests to give it a try. Forewarned is forearmed so use this article to plot an enjoyable chocolate trek through SF minus the pitfalls we encountered.
If you are not into the transit tour, stay for the bits of chocolate news I found along the way.
The scenic route
My transit plan was to include as much variety in modes of transport as possible. My sister — whom I will call Joanie because that’s her name — had already ridden our cable cars before so I skipped that one (tourist season = extra crowded). Instead we rode an AC Transit bus, a ferry, an historic street car, an electric trolley bus, a regular MUNI bus, and BART. None were particularly crowded — we got seats each time, so there were breaks in the Death March 😏.
Starting the morning in Oakland I chose the 12 bus line because it’s scenic, stops near the ferry terminal, and goes right past Michael’s Chocolates on Grand Ave. Unfortunately Michael’s was just a drive-by — they don’t open until noon.
Store hours are important in planning your trip. We had a full day planned so we couldn’t wait for Michael’s to open. We had another store opening issue later in the trip, so I would recommend always checking — even rechecking the day before — that a chocolate shop will be open when you plan to visit.
Doing this tour in reverse could work bringing you to Michael’s in late afternoon/early evening when they would still be open.
NOTE: The 12 is also the bus to take to visit Ghirardelli’s mausoleum in Mountain View Cemetery, Timeless Coffee on Piedmont Avenue for vegan chocolates and coffee drinks, and Oaktown Spice Shop for cool spices and some local chocolate.
Ferrying my sister around
After passing by a few of Oakland’s charming retail strips, sparkling Lake Merritt, and our downtown full of Art Deco and older building facades, we got off the 12 near Jack London Square and detoured slightly into the produce warehouse district to get coffee at Bicycle Coffee. It’s not a chocolate destination or transit related, but it’s a good café for a refresher while watching workers load and unload produce in front of the ancient low slung warehouses across the street as the delivery drivers jockey their trucks and vans around.
We then walked a couple of blocks to show Joanie Jack London’s Alaska cabin and his Oakland hangout, Heinold’s First And Last Chance Saloon, but that’s about a 180 from Tudors so she wasn’t particularly psyched to see that — maybe if we were stopping in for a drink but it still wasn’t noon yet so we headed down to the ferry terminal.
If I had known steps would be counted against me, I probably would’ve directed us straight to the terminal, but I am that friend who likes to walk.
Waiting for the ferry I pointed out FDR’s boat (AKA The Floating White House) docked next door which looked really small compared to the more modern big ships docked close by. It even looked smaller than the ferry when that arrived but according to its website, it’s longer — and the photos on there make it look so imposing but in real life it looked more adorable than imposing.
The ferry ride was a hit — first no walking, second the weather was perfect, sunny and breezy but not too much, and third the scenery — it’s the best way to arrive in SF, watching the wildlife in the Bay and SF’s skyline while passing under the Bay Bridge. And Joanie got to see pelicans IRL for the first time.
On solid ground
The chocolate part of our tour officially started when we crossed the plaza from the ferry docks and entered the Ferry Building. If you only have time for one chocolate destination, you can find a lot of SFBA chocolate in this one building.
The first chocolate attraction we encountered in the Ferry Building was unexpected. Maison Verbena, the home goods merchant most associated with soy candles, had a display front and center of chocolates from local chocolatiers/chocolate makers Feve Artisan Chocolatier, K+M Extravirgin Chocolate, and Kollar Chocolates. I don’t know if this was a special event or they regularly carry a selection of SFBA chocolate but Feve does list them as one of their locations on their website.
I looked ahead for the OG Ferry Building chocolate destination — Recchiuti Confections — and had to do a double take: Recchiuti has a new logo that is totally different from their old calligraphic logo. This one still looks hand drawn but in a more constructed yet whimsical style.
Recchiuti new branding extends to their packaging. I wanted to buy my favs but I had to ask for help — I didn’t recognize anything. Logo, labels, containers — it’s all new.
If I’m not buying bonbons, I gravitate toward these two: Cherries Two Ways and Peanut Butter Pucks. I like the new packaging for these, especially the tube for the cherries. They are both sturdy and 100% recyclable/reusable.
I liked the Cherries Two Ways best — as did Cacaopod and my sister. Two types of dried cherries were panned in dark chocolate until shiny. The candied wild Amarena cherries from Italy were also dusted with cocoa powder to visually distinguish them from the sour Morello cherries from Michigan. The Morello cherries had a soft chew and a nice tartness while still tasting like cherries. The Amarena cherries were generally larger, meatier, and sweeter than the Morellos. I couldn’t choose between them which I like more.
The Peanut Butter Pucks have been tweaked since the last time I had them. They used to be mostly milk chocolate with a dark chocolate base — now they are milk chocolate only. The taste started with a very milk forward milk chocolate. The texture was smooth — with a tiny crunch from peanut praline — we all wanted more crunch. It had a good peanut butter flavor with a salty end. Overall we thought they were a little too sweet and normal — Bring back the dark bottom!
More local chocolate options
Across from Recchuiti Confections, Village Market is a gourmet grocer that has always carried some local chocolate. On this trip I spotted chocolate from Charles Chocolates, Raphio Chocolate, Guittard, The Good Chocolate, and TCHO.
We skipped the Dandelion Chocolate shop down the hall because I planned to end our trip at their Valencia St. location. But if this is your only chance you can buy their single origin bars here plus their drinks and pastries.
Our final chocolate destination in the Ferry Building could easily be passed by if you didn’t know it existed. Behind tables laden with bright pastel colored packages of candies, Miette Patisserie & Confiserie had chocolate too including their own confections and bars by local chocolatier Maison Bouche, dark and milk chocolate sea salt caramels by Marich Pancrafted Chocolates, and dark and milk chocolate nonpareils by Guittard.
Miette’s house made chocolates included toffees and chocolate covered almonds and hazelnuts. We got some to try.
Miette makes 2 toffees: English Toffee and Coffee Toffee. Both were thin toffees coated on both sides with dark 66% Valrhona chocolate. The English Toffee was sprinkled with toasted almonds. The Coffee Toffee’s chocolate coating was infused with coffee and sprinkled with cacao nibs.
The clear plastic bags Miette used as packaging contained lots of big thin slabs of toffee generously topped with chopped nuts/nibs on both sides. Cacapod described them as thin as potato chips and we both liked the proportion of chocolate to toffee.
The toffee was chewy rather than crunchy although that could be because of the weather — it’s been hella humid lately — the pieces of toffee even curled up slightly like a potato chip. While I prefer crunchy toffee, I liked these. Maybe because they were so thin they didn’t stick to my teeth and melted away pretty quickly.
Miette picked an exceptional chocolate couverture for the toffees and the toffees were lightly salty. They both had a delicious aftertaste. Cacapod declared himself a fan and suggested these would be good as an after dinner treat — they made him think of Thin Mints — or as an ice cream topping.
The next time I tried them they were crunchy and the Coffee Toffee was a little greasy. I know toffee is sensitive to humidity but this was the most reactive toffee I’ve experienced — the third time I tried it the English Toffee was chewy again. The Coffee Toffee was not as chewy but that could have been because the nibs were so crunchy. Either crunchy or chewy we liked both toffees every time. Totally recommend.
The Almond Dragées on the other hand we did not like. I wanted to — they come in cute little resealable clear pots and they use good ingredients like organic California almonds and Valrhona chocolate — but I tried them twice and my opinion did not change.
They tasted burnt to me. They were very crunchy — they are toasted then caramelized before being coated with 72% chocolate then dusted in unsweetened cocoa powder — and they were bitter and dry. Cacapod described them as “Not just ‘Done and dusted,’ but overdone and dusted.”
Maybe the hazelnut version is better because it’s an oilier nut, and maybe getting the milk chocolate version would be better with the more sweet chocolate balancing the savory nut and bitter cocoa powder.
After all of our chocolate shopping, we got lunch at the Ferry Building — there are lots of good options here including outdoor ones. Afterwards we crossed Embarcadero and caught a vintage streetcar to the Castro.
Unlike AC Transit, it was not air conditioned. It definitely got stuffy on the long ride up Market Street. It also didn’t have automated ramps for wheelchairs — there was no ADA back in the day — so the driver hauled out a contraption made out of sheet metal and placed it on top of the front steps of the bus each time someone in a wheelchair needed to get on or off the streetcar. Luckily our driver was strong, cheerful, and helpful — she also announced transit connections at each stop and added some points of interest too.
In the Castro we stopped by Cliff’s Variety before our planned chocolate stops. I thought Joanie would enjoy their eclectic collection of housewares and more.
She also went through their collection of electric tea kettles with me — she doesn’t drink coffee and my current tea kettle that I dusted off for her visit started breaking down — like pieces coming off. And that saying: A watched pot never boils? Ha! We had to watch mine because it would turn itself off before it ever got to a boil. So I have an assignment before she visits again (besides the No More Death Marches).
When we exited Cliff’s we turned left on 18th and walked the few blocks to Kokak Chocolates and my first big oops of the tour: They were closed for summer vacation. I should’ve checked their website or social media. Google is not enough — it had Kokak as open when it was clearly not.
As someone who prefers walking to driving — I haven’t even owned a car in 30 years — a few blocks out of my way is nothing. But my sister has a medical condition that can make it painful to walk a lot, so I tried to minimize the walking and break it up with seated downtime when I planned this tour. I messed up this time — and even more so later in the trip — and did I mention she was my favorite sister?
So we returned to Castro St. and got some drinks at a little place that had seating outside so we could people watch and sample some of the chocolate we bought at the Ferry Building. Since it was a sunny day in the Castro, of course a couple of naked guys walked by: “Is that some kind of protest?” — I forget sometimes what a unique place we live in — “Naw, it’s just a couple of naked guys.”
Since I already felt guilty about the Kokak mishap, I decided we would skip the 2-block uphill walk to Five Star Truffles. It’s not the steepest incline in SF — the sidewalk doesn’t turn into stairs — but Joanie might’ve thought differently.
Was this tour coming off the rails? Maybe not yet, but the next leg included riding the 24 electric trolley bus to Noe Valley and while it doesn’t run on rails, it’s not unusual for those buses to disconnect from the overhead electric wires.
Walls of chocolate
The bus came quickly and we got seats so yay! Especially after the bus crested the hill and started down to Noe Valley — a steep and jolty ride. But it didn’t jump off the wires once so things were looking up.
Our Noe Valley destination was Chocolate Covered SF — shop of 1000 chocolate bars from around the world. Joanie was instantly impressed as soon as she walked in — and overwhelmed soon after by all the choices. Finally I could redeem myself with chocolate.
While pointing out all the local chocolate I asked Jack — the mastermind behind Chocolate Covered — what was new. For local chocolate he told us they are going to start carrying J Street Chocolate.
For new international choices, he told us about a Norwegian Reindeer Moss and Lingonberry bar that Joanie got interested in but she ultimately chose a floral bar from SFBA Maison Bouche. (Thanks for supporting local business!)
Jack also mentioned a new chocolate maker in South Korea that he had started carrying. That interested me even though he mentioned several times that the bars were pricy. Most bars at Chocolate Covered have colored dots that correspond to their price — these had the price handwritten on them so yeah, pricy.
I had to get some to try. Korea and Korean culture are more of my passions. (Like K-Pop? Let’s get together and chat sometime!) The first time I had Korean chocolate was a box of kimchi flavored souvenir chocolate I bought at Lotte Department Store in Seoul in 2009. The second time I had Korean chocolate was in 2016 when Cacaopod and I went around Seoul visiting chocolatiers. Now there are chocolate makers in S. Korea — and micro batch chocolate makers at that! Of course I had to get some, I feel like I’m the target market.
Finally, Jack showed us some bars from an Irish chocolate maker that he was carrying now. I haven’t had Irish chocolate before — I’m surprised I missed any European chocolate by now— so I got a few of those bars to try too.
We haven’t sampled the bars we got at Chocolate Covered yet so I’ll review those in a separate article.
To get to the last stop on our tour we took the 48 bus to Mission St. We could’ve transferred to the 14 Mission bus to get closer to our destination but we decided to walk to Dandelion Chocolate from 24th St. It’s not very far and we could see some of the sights in the Mission District. Joanie was up for it.
So we walked. And kept walking. We passed the 16th St. BART station. And kept walking — because I forgot that the Dandelion location I wanted is on VALENCIA STREET, not Mission St. Ugh.
Learn from my mistakes. Check your destination address if it’s been a while since you visited (like pre-COVID). By the time I corrected my mistake Joanie was hurting but willing to walk the 6 (SIX) blocks back to Dandelion. Did I mention she is my favorite sister? And how good looking she is?
By the time we got to the Valencia St. Dandelion I was focused on getting us some drinks and seats. But Joanie — trooper that she is — was game to walk around sampling the different single origin bars on display. Just one of the many nice things about Dandelion is the free samples — the taste of chocolate from different places varies so much and chocolate is not cheap so it’s nice to be able to try before you buy.
The real attraction to me at Dandelion are the chocolate drinks — they even have one made from the pulp that surrounds the cacao beans in their pods but that one was sold out when we were there. I especially like their Mission Hot Chocolate which is their take on Mexican hot chocolate.
This time however I had a tip from a neighbor who knew I write about local chocolate. At our street’s National Night Out party earlier that month she told me that whenever she goes to Dandelion — it’s one of her favorite chocolate makers — she always gets the Frozen Hot Chocolate. She said it’s amazing. I was intrigued — frozen. hot. chocolate. How does that work?
So I ordered that while Cacaopod and Joanie got the more traditional European sipping chocolate. I forgot to take pix of how pretty the drinks looked but you can kinda see the 2 types of drinks in the interior shot here — these 2 patrons just happened to order the same drinks we did.
The sipping chocolate is served in white Heath ceramic cups with a single house made marshmallow — there is a bowl of marshmallows on the counter if you want to add more to your drink. My drink was in a larger glass topped with a generous amount of cacoa nib infused whipped cream. And the drinks were served with tiny cookie disks of a shortbread style cookie full of crunchy cacao nibs. It all makes for a very special treat.
We got seats in Dandelion’s parklet out front. Sipping our drinks we people watched the bicyclists, scooter riders, and skateboarders in Valencia St.’s new protected center lane. At first glance I thought it was a bad idea — how do bicyclists deal with intersections and crossing traffic? But as we sat there, it looked better and better to me — no more double parked cars in bike lanes, no more dooring (accidents caused by car doors thrown open into the bike lane), no interactions with cars in the bike lane period. While there was lots of movement and activity, the street felt calm and safe.
And I thoroughly enjoyed my Frozen Hot Chocolate. The first sip I had an initial taste recognition of hot chocolate but then a cool sensation from all the crushed ice. I stirred the whipped cream into the drink and it settled into a Fudgesicle taste — cool, fudgy, chocolatey, but more adult since it didn’t come on a stick. I think this might become my Dandelion go-to drink. My neighbor did not steer me wrong.
Home in time for dinner
With our drinks finished and Joanie reasonably rested and refreshed, we walked back to Mission St. and took BART back to the East Bay. We got home just before dark. Cut out all the sightseeing and wandering off course and I think this tour could be done in an afternoon. But no guarantees — you might get lost or diverted like we did.
If you do a reverse version of this tour starting in SF:
- Start at Dandelion — either the Valencia St. location or the 16th St. factory — for a morning drink. If you don’t want to drink hot chocolate in the morning they have espresso drinks too.
- Mosey over to Chocolate Covered — they open at 10:30am. It’s uphill so you might want to take the bus.
- Definitely takes the electric trolley bus to Kokak Chocolates and Five Star Truffles in the Castro. That Divisadero St. hill is a killer.
- Board the streetcar at the intersection of Castro and Market — you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat and ride it to the end at the Embarcadero.
- Enjoy lunch and all the chocolate stops in the Ferry Building with an eye on the time if you want to catch the ferry to Oakland — it only runs about once an hour in the afternoon.
- In Oakland catch the 12 a few blocks from the ferry dock to Michael’s for chocolate shopping, gelato, and espresso drinks. There are dining options up and down the street near Michael’s — plus Oakland’s Grand Lake movie theater if you want to extend your day.
- Take the 12 to the 19th St. transit center and catch BART back to the city.
When we were taking Joanie to the airport at the end of her trip, we had one more chocolate related experience: We ran into Julia Street of J Street Chocolate on the BART platform.
‘We just saw Jack a few days ago and he said he was going to start carrying your bars!’
‘I talked to Jack earlier today and he said you had come to the store this week!’
It’s a small world after all — but at least 6.2 miles wide as my favorite sister will remind me.